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03. July 2019 / By Anders Bo Rasmussen / 0 Comments
At Universal Robots (UR) we have launched UR+, the world’s first ecosystem of third-party end-effector solutions and other add-ons for our collaborative robot (cobot) arms, allowing us and our partners to focus on what each does best, encouraging collaboration and creativity that benefits customers.
While other manufacturers opt to make their own end-effectors rather than involving third parties, UR has chosen an ecosystem business model for a variety of reasons:
Partner handshake: CEO of Soft Robotics Carl Vause (left) demonstrates his company’s new UR+ certified gripper to Universal Robots’ founder Esben Østergaard.
A great robotic arm is exceedingly difficult to engineer. So, the idea that UR could excel at this plus also produce end-effectors that live up to its standards was not an approach we wanted to pursue. End-effectors are industry- and application-specific, and the companies that make them possess highly specialized knowledge of exactly how their products are used and must function.
These companies are experts in the minute details. As experts in collaboration, we thought it only natural that we should facilitate the collaboration between end users and end-effector suppliers. At UR, we’ve found that the ecosystem we’ve created with our partners benefits customers in four ways: Utility, choice, security, and ease.
Creating healthy, dynamic competition
Because of the size and diversity of the UR+ portfolio of products certified to work well with UR cobots from day 1, any given customer is more likely to find just the right tool for their application than with other suppliers. This means more companies can benefit from robotic automation, and those that do can maximize the productivity, quality and cost-saving benefits that cobots provide. It goes without saying that an ecosystem approach, with multiple suppliers producing the same types of end-effectors, gives customers more choice than if they only had one option available to them. For the individual customer, choice means a more exact match to specific needs. In a broader sense it means a more-dynamic ecosystem, with partners jostling to outdo each other or find underserviced niches which keeps pushing quality higher as it broadens the offering as a whole.
Why would third-party companies develop products certified for UR cobots? See the many different reasons and benefits here.
Securing the investment
When we speak of UR+ and security, we mean the security of the customer’s investment in automation infrastructure. A smaller automation provider might entice today, but could be gone tomorrow, leaving the end user stranded with a futureless technology. In addition to this “staying power” security, a larger ecosystem means more engineers working to solve challenges today and tomorrow – and a greater chance that they will succeed. Ease-of-use means faster deployment and less-costly training time for operators. We achieve this through certified seamless hardware integration, and end-effector control that is fully integrated in the UR control interface. A UR cobot can be deployed and put to work in next to no time, and the UR+ program makes sure that end-effectors don’t slow the process or add costly complexity.
Ultimately, the UR+ ecosystem was created to empower customers – as do the cobots themselves. UR+ taps into that entrepreneurial do-it-yourself spirit that drives companies to take the first steps toward automation. It’s more of a movement than a business model, and involvement usually means positive transformation. The UR+ ecosystem empowers manufacturers of end-effectors just as it empowers companies that take the automation plunge.
UR+ partners gain sales access to a larger worldwide installed base than they’ll find with any other collaborative robot manufacturer. They ensure maximum performance by making sure their products are used with the best cobots available. They maximize customer satisfaction by delivering the compatibility and ease of use that the UR+ certification process ensures. And they can count on business growth, as the installed base of UR cobots just keeps expanding.
Voodoo Manufacturing in Brooklyn, New York, was racing against time to develop a proof of concept for investors, showing how they could effortlessly and economically automate the harvesting of their 3D printers. The company originally looked at competing cobot solutions but ended up choosing a UR10 with a UR+ certified gripper from Robotiq due to the seamless integration, allowing the user to program the gripper directly through the UR cobot’s teach pendant.
Why benefits outweigh the risk
A less-tangible benefit for UR+ partners is the creative energy they’re able to tap into when they join the developer program. We freely admit that there are risks involved in opening up. But we’ve found that they are manageable, and the risks involved in pretending you can do everything yourself are far greater. To ensure the quality of the third-party end-effectors and other products available through the UR+ program, Universal Robots operates a proven certification system. The challenge is to give developers the creative freedom to invent their dream solutions, while also insisting 100 percent on the compatibility, performance and ease of use.
Universal Robots believes that a third-party ecosystem approach is the best way to get complete cobot solutions in the hands of customers. The proof is in the “booming” UR+ marketplace, that now counts 155 certified UR+ products and 400+ approved commercial developer companies in the UR+ program
now. For us, there is no limit to the new solutions and opportunities that UR+ will open up for customers and partners going forward. As cobot automation continues to grow and move into new application areas, new end-effector and accessory developers with useful new solutions will just keep coming.
Anders Bo Rasmussen is Universal Robots’ UR+ senior product manager. His career spans leading roles in product management across several industries, such as consumer electronics and medical devices. Anders is 46 years young and lives with his family in the outskirts of Copenhagen.